The old Jewish joke states that all Jewish holidays boil down to one statement: They tried to kill us; we won; lets eat. In the case of Chanukah, the enemy was Antiochus IV Epiphanes who tried to wipe out the Jewish religion and convert all Jews to Hellenism, the worship of Zeus.
The Jews revolted, won in 164 BC, and today they celebrate by eating potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly donuts. Thats the lets eat part of the story.
The encyclopedia Britannica says of Chanukah, a Jewish observance commemorating the rededication (164 BC) of the Second Temple of Jerusalem after its desecration three years earlier by order of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The Syrian king was thus frustrated in his attempt to extirpate the Jewish faith.
According to the story, when the Temple was freed of Syrian occupation and cleansed, a holy vial of oil intended to burn for only one day burned for eight days until more such oil could be obtained for the perpetual light in the Temple. But theres more to the story than that.
DEATH & ZEUS
The revolt against the Syrians began when a statue of Zeus was erected in the Temple. Rabbi Mathathias was so enraged when a Jew bowed down to the statue of Zeus that he killed him. A riot ensued and in the revolt that followed Judah Maccabee defeated the Syrians. The Hasmonean dynasty followed, but its reputation for corruption was such a stain on Jewish history that Chanukah was regarded as only a minor holiday.
What is not often reported is that in the Maccabean revolt, thousands of Jews were killed for having accepted the ruling of Antiochus and his religion. Their sin was of assimilation. Though most people are familiar with the Ten Commandments, including Thou shalt have no other gods before Me, not many are aware of the Biblical punishment for breaking those commandments. It is death.
Mattathias, in killing the Jew who worshipped the statue of Zeus, was meting out punishment for assimilation. The same goes for anyone who would try to convert Jews to some other religion. See Deuteronomy 13:5.
Death is the punishment for anyone who would persuade a Jew to turn away from the LORD. Would-be missionaries, please note.
Had Antiochus succeeded in extirpating Judaism, he would have destroyed the Torah and other books of the Hebrew Scriptures, now incorporated into Christianity as the Old Testament. In fact, were it not for the Maccabean revolt that rescued Judaism from oblivion, Jesus and his disciples of 150 years later would have been born Hellenists, worshippers of Zeus. All references to the Hebrew Scriptures would then have been forgotten and there would be no Judeo-Christian theology today. So when your worship services quote the Hebrew bible, thank Judah Maccabee and remember Chanukah. Its not just about a cruse of oil that burned eight days instead of one. Its about freedom of religion and a major turning point in the history of two of the worlds great religions.
As for the latkes and the jelly donuts, both are fried in oil which seems to be the connection to that miraculous cruse that burned eight days instead of one. Donut anyone? Lets eat.
Harley L. Sachs, visit the web site www.hu.mtu.edu/~hlsachs and listen to two stories broadcast on the BBC (broadband high speed recommended!) and read extensive reviews.